The article about interventions in last week’s Gazette, which included a description of the consequences and cost of the collapse of Blakemores, should have us all worried for the future of our profession. It is clear now that our leaders were mistaken when they allowed first advertising and later referral fees, without either of which firms like Blakemores could not have come into being.
The unprecedented surge in interventions and the consequent increase in the budget of the Solicitors Regulation Authority can only be the thin end of the wedge. If just a handful of the 30 or so ‘top 200’ firms with which the SRA is ‘in intensive engagement’ require an intervention, the current budget problems will seem small.
Add to this the introduction of alternative business structures and we have to wonder how big they will become, and how much it will cost to intervene in one such firm. In fact, looking in a different direction, how much would it cost to intervene in one of the new ‘super’ criminal firms envisaged by the government? The risk is that these costs will fall on all of us, and the old-fashioned but still very useful high-street ‘firm’ model will be swamped.
It is the smaller firms serving the smaller communities which will sink first. It cannot be in the public interest for people living in or near the smaller towns to find themselves without any local lawyers at all. I therefore call on the Law Society to consider ways in which the smaller professional unit can be split from the larger, more corporate entities when it comes to the cost of regulation and the compensation fund.
Perhaps a new sub-profession, consisting only of sole practitioners and firms in partnerships of no more than 30, and/or employing no more than 50 lawyers, would fit the bill?
Peter Ryder, Craven Arms, Shropshire